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Bank robbers flee into mall and 3 escape

January 23, 2008|Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles police arrested two bank robbery suspects Tuesday but continued to search for three others who got away after fleeing into the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall, which was locked down for several hours.

The suspects allegedly robbed an Orange County bank earlier and were being chased by the California Highway Patrol when they crashed their sport utility vehicle into a palm tree near the mall about 10:30 a.m., said Officer Ana Aguirre, of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Four of the suspects then ran into the mall.

One witness said he watched as the black SUV sped toward the mall entrance before the driver lost control and hit the tree. He said money began spilling out of the car and that bystanders ran over trying to scoop it up.

"It was crazy," the witness said. The others fled, but the driver of the vehicle, "a well-dressed Latino man," was arrested, he said.

As two police helicopters circled above, dozens of officers surrounded the mall. Customers were initially told to stay put.

Andrea Ratchford, 46, said she was shopping for shoes with her family when the suspects bolted into the mall. The home-care nurse worried that she wouldn't be able to make it to work.

"We can't leave," she said. "I have to go to work . . . but I can't get out."

The incident began when three of the suspects, one armed and all wearing ski masks, robbed the Downey Savings and Loan in Costa Mesa about 10 a.m., said Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman. They forced customers onto the floor and employees into the bank's vault, she said.

There were no injuries reported and no shots were fired in the bank, Eimiller said. The men and their accomplices fled in the SUV, pursued by California Highway Patrol officers in a high speed chase on the 110 Freeway, she said.

The chase continued as the vehicles left the freeway. Louis Gregorio said he was standing near the corner of Vermont and Vernon avenues when he saw the SUV race by.

"I saw money start flying out of the car," Gregorio said. "It was crazy." He said people on the sidewalk ran into the street to grab some of the money.


Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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